How ironic that Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned in 1964 for “treason” – to emerge decades later revered in his native South Africa and around the world.
The change in attitude had everything to do with the man’s struggle for freedom and equality in a country that had become known for repression and its apartheid policies. Mandela would eventually emerge from prison in 1990 to lead political change in South Africa and ultimately inspire people around the world.
With his passing on Thursday at age 95, tributes from politicians and other leaders around the world express regret at the loss of such a light in the world. At the same time they remind us that the change sparked by Mandela – in his own country and subsequently firing up hope elsewhere – will live forever.
Thinking back to that time surrounding his release in 1990, the renewed struggle for freedom in a country ruled by minority whites came with a lot of tension. If there was to be an overthrow, some feared it would be violent.
Although Mandela had been imprisoned convicted of a sabotage campaign against the government, what followed was a peaceful, persistent pursuit of reconciliation, one that transcended racial differences and strove to help all those impoverished.
Reports since his death mention his affection for Canada where, in 2001, he was made an honorary citizen. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s broke ranks with other leaders to champion the cause of freeing Mandela and putting economic pressure on the South African regime.
No country is without its struggles and challenges. Mandela would acknowledge that after his presidency there was still work to accomplish in South Africa.
We in Canada – where First Nations in many areas endure poverty – and people elsewhere need to continue working toward societies where no one is on a bottom rung.
Much legwork remains in addressing poverty and inequality, but Mandela has left us the model and inspiration to pursue it.